According to your great complassion, blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my inquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Of all the Holy days leading up to Easter, Ash Wednesday is my favorite. The church, even at the noon service, is somber, quiet, and dark. The hymns are often on the slow side and in a minor key. I know it’s bit odd for my favorite service to remind me that I came from dust and will return to dust, but there is something reassuring about that.
I didn’t make it to church yesterday.
I struggled to figure out how to make it work. Maybe a sitter for the boys so I could go while Curtis did the soccer carpool? Then baseball practice was scheduled for that evening as well and I simply gave up.
For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.
For Christmas, I received Sara Miles’s new book, City of God. I eagerly read her book in January. Miles describes in her book the development of their church’s Ash Wednesday outreach. In late afternoon and early evening, Miles and others from her Episcopalian church head to the streets of the Mission district with ashes, to remind those who couldn’t make it to church that they would return to dust.
I was fascinated by their outreach, but at the same time questioned it. Could ashes be given without a proper reading of Psalm 51? Would the lack of somber hymns in minor keys diminish the meaning of the ashes? Would the people really know what the ashes meant without a pastor to explain it to them? How much of my Ash Wednesday experience that I loved was simply made up of fluff, instead of what really mattered? What really did matter on Ash Wednesday—the administering of ashes or the church service surrounding it? I wasn’t sure. Was it simply a show? Did you need to be a card carrying church member to get the ashes?
I didn’t make it to church for Ash Wednesday.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
On Wednesday, I checked out Micha Boyett’s, one of my favorite occasional bloggers, blog. She had a repost for Ash Wednesday about an Ash Wednesday that didn’t quite go as planned a few years ago. While that year, she did make it church, minus her husband, she remembered a year in which she didn’t. Her husband was out of town and with two small boys, church just wasn’t going to happen. Instead, she burned some leaves in the backyard and marked herself, stating the words to herself. Her preschool aged son noticed and wanted the ashes as well, so she marked him, too.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
It was bedtime before Curtis and I had a chance to check in with each other. He hadn’t made it to church either. We both lamented the fact that less than three hours were left in Ash Wednesday and we missed being marked with the cross, with a reminder of our humanity and our need for God. We had talked about our Lenten practices for this year in passing earlier (at supper maybe? Or was it when we were filling up water bottles for practices?) and decided to read a Psalm together.
Curtis read aloud Psalm 51, the one I remembered being used at every Ash Wednesday service I’ve ever been to. After he finished, I leaned over to him. “Curtis, from dust you came and to dust you will return.” Lacking ashes and being a little bit shy for some reason, I skipped marking his head with a cross. He looked at me in the eyes. “Melani, from dust you came and to dust you will return,” he replied as he made a cross on my forehead.
Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
I didn’t make it to church for Ash Wednesday service.
Church happened in my house, without a pastor and without somber hymns in minor keys. We remembered together where we came from and our ultimate end in the reading of Psalm 51 and simple words said over each other.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
Italics are selected verses from Psalms 51
2015 has arrived. I know your thinking, “Yes, Melani. 2015 arrived one month and one week ago.” That it did. I, however, spent the month the January on the slow recovery from the flu I had over Christmas and trying to keep (get) my kids healthy again. Thus, only one month into the year, I failed at my goal for the year—to show up here and write once a month.
I am generally not one to give up though. I am persistent (also translated as stubborn). One failed or mediocre attempt isn’t generally enough to know me out. Here I am at the beginning of February, sitting at the computer on Saturday morning when I should be at the grocery store, enjoying a slow (ish) morning drinking coffee in my pajamas.
When I made my goal of writing once a month, I wondered what I would write about when I sat down. Would I contemplate the struggles of working outside the house full-time for the first time in 8 years? Would I spend the whole post telling about the occasional book I’ve read, the restaurant I ate at, or the one awesome meal I made for the month? I am still not sure of my purpose for writing. I only know that the process of sitting down to write is part of who I am. I am slowly trying to add in one lost thing back into my life at a sustainable rate. I am trying to reclaim pieces of myself that I was forced to leave behind when I returned to teaching.
So here I am. I am writing–without a plan.
Anytime there is a major life transition–moving, new job, new baby, a break-up, or an illness for yourself or a loved one, we switch into survival mode. I figure out what I need to get to bedtime that night, the end of the week, or the next day off. I grit my teeth and settle in. Once upon a time (maybe quitting my job and having baby number 2), I realized that writing was one of those things that made surviving a tad easier. Even longer before that, I discovered when stress set it, I stopped singing. More recently (baby number 3), I discovered I needed to bake. Through all of those times, I learned that somehow I needed to find a way to keep learning new things and keep creating things.
That’s why I am drawn to teaching. There is no shortage of learning new things (Electrical circuits!!!) or creating (Lesson planning!!!). My book reading is switching back to fiction, because of my need for an escape. (I can’t totally leave the nonfiction genre–it’s just taking me longer and I’m more selective. Anything by Malcolm Gladwell is always on my list–Tipping Point currently–along with a few of my favorite Christian authors like Rachel Held Evans, Sara Miles, Sarah Bessey, and Jen Hatmaker’s new releases).
If I would have one word for the year, it would probably be Intentional or Flexibility or maybe even Gentleness. I know this year I am not the same teacher I was 8 years ago–it would be impossible for me to be. I know this year I am not doing as much at home as I did a year ago–our house is generally not spotless (it wasn’t spotless a year ago, but it’s a bit worse now) and my projects keep piling up. I am not exercising like I should be (like at all) and my quiet time is now crammed into my morning reading as I inhale my cereal or into Madeleine’s Celtic prayers at night. Things don’t look like they did a year ago. I’ve had to let things go and be happy with good enough instead of great. That’s a hard thing to do. My expectations for myself are high and I find I measure up very little. My thankful list template still sits on my computer, waiting to be taken to the printers to be printed. Last December reminds me of my failure every time I go to the fridge. I leave it there though, to remind me that the printers is still on my to do list: it is still my intention.
Gentleness when I look longing at my chair where I spent time praying and reading the Bible. Gentleness when I am close to tears because I am dragging the kids on an errand after school because I just can’t bear to be apart from them another minute. Gentleness when I am hard on myself because I am frustrated when they are sick and upset because I am leaving their sick, pitiful selves with some one other than parent. Gentleness when I teach Sunday School and I know it is a half-hearted effort. Gentleness when I leave my name on the church committee, but wonder if I will ever make it to a meeting. Gentleness when I look at my bike hanging in the garage and wince because adding exercise to my weekend increases my stress level exponentially. Gentleness when I open the scrapbooking box and feel bad because I have no idea when I will ever finish the started scrapbooks.
Gentleness it is, I guess.
Because the flip sides of all those apparent failures are achievements–I found a prayer and meditation that fit into my life. I am slowly trying to fit in other moments of prayers and words to remind me what centers me. I love my children and want to be with them. I can check on my children easily at school when they go to school feeling a bit pitiful (but have been 24 hours fever free). Preparing for my pathetic attempt at teaching Sunday School reminded me of the importance of corporate and regular prayers. I am still passionate about adult curriculum and want to be involved. Knowing that while I may not exercise this weekend, some weekend I will get on my bike again and it will be wonderful. Being reassured that someday those scrapbooks may happen and whatever I complete will remind my children exactly how loved they are.
We all need a little a more gentleness with ourselves and with each other.
The past two or three years (or however long I’ve been here), I have attempted to post every single day in November about things I am thankful. It’s been a good reminder to me to spend my time showing gratitude and it’s kept my heart a bit lighter. Knowing I will need to be publicly thankful for something at the end of the day made me be sure to find at least one thing to be thankful for (and you know, no matter what your life’s situation is, somedays that is hard).
This year, I am midway through November and I have yet to be publicly thankful once. I am realizing it’s not just me. In years past, my Facebook feed would be full of November thankful. It seems like I am not the only one who has not taken the time to write down my thankfuls.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I haven’t been thankful this month. My list on my fridge is growing by the day. The words and energy to write though have eluded me. Today, there is nothing stopping me. It’s Sunday. I have pot of tea made and I am cozy wearing my alma mater sweatshirt and sitting in my adequately heated (and insulated) house.
I have so much to be thankful for this year. Mostly, I am thankful for my family. This fall has been a bit of a transition. From not working outside the house at all to working fall time has been a leap for all of us. I am thankful beyond words for Curtis. Curtis has adjusted his schedule to take John to his doctor’s appointments for his broken arm (oh, yes, another broken arm happened this fall) and do Madeleine’s soccer carpools. He’s played lead parent at school, showing up for events I used to, volunteering for things, and learning to know some other school parents. He’s encouraged me to go shopping, to update my not-have-to-leave-the-house -more-than-twice-a-week wardrobe, applauding me when I spend more money than I am comfortable with (which, for the record, isn’t a lot…I don’t like spending money. period.). In the evenings, Curtis has put up with my hours of school work I do, some of which renders me relatively uncommunicative because I kinda need to think when I’m grading kids’ writings. On the weekends, he’s transitioned from the slower, lazy weekends of the past to the slightly harried errand filled Saturdays (a family’s got to eat!). Curtis has supported me in every imaginable way possible, from taking more responsibilities around the house to listening to my overwhelmed, tear-filled occasional breakdowns. I am so thankful to have had Curtis by my side this fall, being my greatest cheerleader and my greatest support.
I am thankful for my kids as well. Madeleine, especially, has been very vocal in not being thrilled with the changes in our family’s routine. Yet, she and the boys have rolled with it. She and John have become more responsible, completing homework first–perched in corners of my classroom after school–before asking for some computer time before we leave school. They know it’s their job to unload the dishwasher and they generally do it– in fact, they’ve got quite a system worked out. Their schedule has been turned upside down–I no longer bring them lunches at school or go on their field trips, but Isaac gets to give me hug everyday when I pass him in the hall after his lunch. He’s adapted to his after school care beautifully, and I am thankful for his outgoing, social personality that makes that transition so easy for him.
I am thankful for my job. It happened so fast and it took awhile for me to get used to the idea of going to work every day. The curriculum has changed a bit (understatement!!!) in the past eight years I was out. My teammates are beyond wonderful. They’ve accepted me and made me feel welcomed. They answer my constant barrage of questions with more patience than I think I have. They put up with my mistakes and my general cluelessness. They help me plan my lessons and negotiate through all the new software I am using. They answer my 6 am texts when I wake up sick and have no idea what the procedures are for calling in sick. On top of all that, they’re fun, they make me laugh, and I love eating lunch with them every single work day. I can’t imagine working with a better team.
I am thankful for my kids’ teachers as well. Every single one of them is fabulous this year. My middle child, who hated school last year, is thriving this year thanks to his classroom teacher and his reading teacher, finally getting the reading support he needs. My oldest and youngest both have wonderful teachers who love teaching and children and appreciate my kids for the unique people they are.
I am thankful for my friends. They’ve let me drop off the face of the earth because sometimes I. just.couldn’t. They went out with me when I told them the crazy idea that I may teach again this fall. They’ve let me be tired and grumpy and not very talkative sometimes. They check in with me. They listen to my teacher stories, which I know really aren’t interesting to many people beyond the teachers that know the kids. They’ve been there when I’ve been ready to reemerge. They are patient for me to return their texts until my planning time. They haven’t let me disappear into the working world.
I am thankful for October and November in Texas, for weather reports being wrong, for cold, rainy days, for perfect camping weekends, and for the chance to be in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in October to see the leaves in their fall splendor.
Although I may not post every day what I am thankful for, I am still thankful. My list could go on and on, especially on this dreary cold Sunday afternoon, that John has warmed by lighting candles for me. The butternut squash is simmering on the stove and we are eating soup again this night. I think I may even get to bake and I may just take a break from lesson plans to ice those salted caramel pumpkin cupcakes I am dreaming of making.
My friends, I miss you. I really do. It’s been all of September and most of October since you’ve heard from me. Thank you to those who periodically check in on my over here at this blog. I check it everyone in awhile, because I miss it. There in the top dashboard/tool bar, it tells me. About once a week or so, someone checks in on me. Maybe to see if I’m still here or maybe it’s to see if I published something without publicizing it on Facebook. I haven’t though. I’ve been silent.
This self-imposed silence has been for a good reason. Really.
Instead of writing, I’ve been teaching fourth graders to write. I’ve convinced a few hesitant writers, who were known to put their heads on their desks and cry at the beginning of the year because they just couldn’t write, to write eagerly. I’ve encouraged masterful writers, who take one suggestion and run with it, to write more beautifully–better than I could at fourth grade (and probably more descriptively than I even can now). In the evenings, in my spare time, I am reading children’s writing instead of doing my own. It’s made me happy.
This road to teaching is a story to tell. One of these days (winter break?) I’ll get to it. The short story is that when God starts opening doors, I’ve learned it’s smartest to just walk on through them, even though I have no idea how things will work out. The long story is, well, longer.
I just wanted to check in with y’all and let you know I haven’t gone away forever. I have intentions of being back. I have stories to tell and saints (Grandma’s) to remember. I have thoughts on juggling it all. I’ve read a couple of books even and have managed to eat out a little bit (thanks to two days worth of training).
With that I am off. Supper (a Thai beef curry) is simmering on the stove for supper and I need to clean up a little around this kitchen before it’s supper time. In my laptop bag (I have a laptop now!!! And a work e-mail address!!! Craziness!!!), I have descriptive writing on a character and matter foldables to grade. These moments of silence are fleeting,
It’s all good here though. My 8 years worth of work at home has been worth it. Reading Benedict the past six months have reminded to approach this new venture with humility. I remember, as often as I can, that I was not brought to where I am to be ignored. I trust the God that has brought this change to my life will continue to be present with me.
August firmly planted us back in Austin. We prolonged summer as long as possible and then dove into the new school year.
Someone had a birthday! I made the cake–Julia Child’s Queen of Sheba cake. It’s the perfect size for our family and one of our favorites.
My cousin came to visit for not quite a week. We did some very “Austin” things, like watch the Mexican Freetail Bats emerge, right across the lake from downtown. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen the bats emerge–it’s awe-inspiring and breathtaking every time.
Someone did her first ever triathlon. She chose not to train and still had a great time. We’ll see if she ever decides to do another one. We were super proud of her and her 47th place finish!
We fit in a short weekend at the lake with friends. It was worth every minute of the four hour drive in the car whose air conditioning chose to go the day we left (nothing like driving without ac when it’s 100 degrees out).
Oh yes, that’s me tubing for the first time ever. Forty isn’t too old to try things for the first time. I loved it, but was sore for a couple of days.
And then…school started. Off we went, all on our bikes. I used the bike trailer just the first morning to lug the grocery bags full of school supplies. Biking to school makes me (and the boys) happy.
It was an unusual month in that every single book I read I rated five stars on Goodreads. Crazy good reading luck this month.
The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century by Joan Chittister. I’ve been reading this book since the beginning of May and will finish it on August 31. Chittister uses St. Benedicts rule which was written 1500 years ago as the basis for four months of daily readings and reflections. This has been a life changing book (more on that next time). I loved it so much, I convinced Curtis to read it. I found the reflections on humility particularly difficult (I can’t imagine why). I will be starting this book again on Sept 1.
Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey by Simon Armitage. I enjoyed this book. Armitage wrote about his decision and consequential walk on the Pennine Way, a 265 mile route connecting Scotland and England. Armitage’s humor kept me interested in the book and I loved his descriptions. I actually read this book at the beginning of July and forgot to add to July’s book list.
The House Girl by Tara Conklin. This was our book club pick for the month. I found the book quite enjoyable and thought about it for several days afterwards. The story jumps between the story of a slave woman who wanted to escape and the lawyer who was contemplating her own future paths.
A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley. This the third book in the Flavia de Luce series. I liked this book more than the previous one and I remain a Falvia de Luce fan.
The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit. I never imagined I would like this book, even after I started it. The voice is strange–I’ve never read a book written in first person plural before (a collective we). I found it difficult to read at first because of the lack of an identifiable main character, however as I got used to the book’s format, I found the story intriguing. I had never given much thought to the wives of the men who developed The Bomb.
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World by Brian McLaren. I must admit, it’s kinda boring to write about all the books I liked this month. I start feeling like a broken record. This was a thought provoking book which encouraged me to think about how I share my faith (and what “kind” of Christian I am) in a different way.
I made up for lost summer eating out in about 2 weeks time.
Eastside King Hole in the Wall…yum. I love Eastside King. Hole in the wall has a similar trailer to their food truck, with the addition of ramen. BTW, one of Eastside King’s food trailers was named one of the top ten new restaurants in the US last year. Oh yeah. I believe it.
Yeti Frozen Custard. As far as frozen custard goes, this was fair to middlin’. As far as the dessert I ordered went, it was fabulous! I am picky about my frozen custard. Frozen custard should me more than just soft serve ice cream. Froze custard should have a rich, eggy taste and be smooth (not gritty or full of ice crystals). The consistency of this was fine, but the taste was bland. However, I ordered something special that with chocolate custard–chocolate custard plus Reese’s peanut butter cups, caramel sauce, pretzels and whipped cream. That was mighty tasty.
Sway. Favorite restaurant find of the month. We went here for one of our two dates of the entire summer and it was worth being one of the dates. Yummy, yummy Thai fusion food. We got the tom kun soup and the stir fry with pears and brussels sprouts. Fabulous!
Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza. Normally, Curtis and I only really celebrate each other’s birthdays on years that are multiple of tens. This year though, I was feeling like celebrating. We drove out in the edge of the hill country to a ranch to eat pizza (also the home of Jester King Brewery). Three other families joined us. Our eleven crazy kids ran around, played in sand, and busted rocks while we enjoyed wonderful wood fire pizza and beer (and lemonade for those of us driving). Not often do I name things perfect. This was perfect. Good food, good friends.
drink.well. This had the good friends part going for it. That’s about it. Food was definitely meh. It was an mid-range (cost wise) restaurant where you ordered at the bar, which was a bit strange. Won’t be going back or recommending this popular North Central place.
Dang Bahn Mi. Another yum. Very rarely can I go wrong with Asian food, in particular bahn mi sandwiches or ramen. This order at the counter place opened in mid July up on the North part of town. I had several incredibly busy days with no appetite, so this seemed like a good option. The vegetables on their sandwiches were incredible. And their Vietnamese ice coffee….see the picture below. This happened then I poured it over ice I served myself.
plus Ramen Tatsu-ya, Royer’s Pie Haven, and The Noble Pig again. Still love all three of those places. I’ve probably gotten 4 things off of Noble Pig’s small menu and have loved every one of them. This time it was the curried egg salad sandwich. Yum. Tatsu-ya and Royer’s never disappoint me either (all though I wish the crusts at Royer’s had more flavor and not so much of the bland vegetable shortening taste).
We watched some movies, most of which I can’t remember. My twenty year old cousin came into town so we had 80’s movies education nights. We started with Weekend at Bernie’s (which I think the parts are funnier than the whole). We also watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off which was just as delightful now as it was twenty to thirty years (!!!) ago. Curtis and I watched Her, which I think I liked. At the very least it was thought provoking. We tried to watched Anchorman 2, but were unsuccessful–it just wasn’t funny. Our kids watched all four of the Spy Kids movies, which they loved, but I thought were nothing fabulous. I listened to Gungor’s Ghosts Upon the Earth a lot–it’s my stress music.
That’s it. It was chockfull.
Summer is quickly coming to an end here in Texas land. We are on the slow side of starting school this year–for the past week I’ve been watching the wonderful back to school pictures of kids on Facebook (usually on Monday or Tuesdays). Our turn is coming. Monday it begins.
I’m working on getting in the school mood, but to be honest, I am really in no hurry whatsoever. Last year’s school year wasn’t an easy one–especially for my middlest. I must admit, I bribed my boy to attend school last spring–more or less a dollar day (to buy the computer version of Minecraft) for each day he went to school without a fight.
You can see why I may not be looking forward to school.
Starting a school year is a bit different for kids who are different learners. Soon after winter break last year, we realized my middlest wasn’t progressing like he should in reading. Despite extra help at home, at school, and after school, his reading skills weren’t developing like regular readers. We waded through the evaluation process and spent a lot of time waiting. Then we waited some more. Then summer started and we practiced waiting some more.
One week ago, I received a phone call from the school. The evaluation results were back–my middlest is dyslexic. His brain processes reading differently than normal readers–his struggles last year had nothing to do with intelligence (the report even told us that), but from having a similar brain to Einstein and Spielberg.
Those words only go but so far with a 7 year old who has thought for the past nine months that he was stupid. For him, school is a reminder he is not smart, even though all of us knew all along that he is plenty smart. He doesn’t feel smart.
Summer has been bliss for him. We’ve been reading to him–he loves books, finishing the Gregor the Overlander series and listening to four long chapter books (3 Newbery Medal winners) on our road trip. He reads to us some, but we haven’t pushed him. He reads the books I’ve leveled (found the corresponding DRA level so I can be sure he’s successful while reading), he reads road signs and bumper stickers, and the other print that occurs around him (like the texts I send). We tried to use the summer to nurture his self-esteem that was pummeled last year.
I take deep breaths while I think about the upcoming school year.
My middlest had a great teacher last year. Our problem isn’t with teachers. We loved our teachers. No matter how good a teacher is though, a child notices when he isn’t reading as well as his friends are.
It’s hard for me to be excited. I’m working on it though, because I have two others going to school this year as well. I’m trying not to worry about them either. I’m mostly successful. Mostly.
I can’t promise my middlest everything is going to be ok this year at school. I wish I could. My oldest I can confidently tell that fourth grade is going to be just fine. I believe it too–school is easy for her and she has proven she will be ok. But my middlest? The best I can tell him is that I have his back. I can tell him that we are going to do absolutely everything we can to make the school year better this year. We’ve talked about dyslexia. We’ve talked about how smart he is, how his brain is similar to super smart people’s. He’s starting to believe it too–after watching Spy Kids, he told me there were smart kids in the movie, just like him. It made my heart dance. We’ve talked about having a team of people behind him to help him break the mysterious code that is reading.
That walk through the doors of the school next Monday will be a work of faith. Prayers are surrounding my children as they start this school year–let them be intact when they leave the year. Let my youngest with a speech delay feel accepted in his kindergarten classroom. Let him be confident and love learning. Let him be himself. Let my oldest be kind as she enters fourth grade, when girls especially start being not so kind. Let her reach out to the kid who feels left out. Let all children feel like they are her friend. Let her be herself and not bend to be the person she thinks her friends want her to be.
And for my middlest…..Let him be surrounded with love this year. Let him come home from school with his head held high instead of bowed low in shame. Let him know he is smart. Let him find ways to use his incredible gifts. Let him continue to be kind to everyone, no matter what. Let his weaknesses make him more compassionate.
No matter how old my kids seem to be, the start of the year is hard for me. I am a worrier and have a collection of experiences that have justified my worry. For my oldest, it’s easier, but for my two with unique challenges who don’t fit the “normal” learner definition I worry, like I suspect all mamas out there with kids who have extra challenges worry.
If you are one of those worrying mamas, know that you are not worrying alone. It’s ok if you are terrified that school is starting and you want the lower stress of summer to continue. It’s ok if you would rather keep your loves safe in your house when they know they are enough, rather than sending them to school when they have to fight to feel like they are intelligent. It’s ok. There are others of us with you, wondering how we are going to make it through another school, wondering if we really can.
My faith journey veered in a slightly different direction after I moved to Austin some 17 years ago. Somehow, I became aware of the contemplative movement–meditation, guided prayer, silence, and the teachings of monks (nuns) and mystics. No doubt this coincided with Oprah telling us all to be present in the moment as well. It stuck though. I try to live in faith, to not move so fast, to give thanks for all that I see around me, and to live out the first instruction God gave humans in the creation story–Take care of the earth. While a large part of my food choices emerged from what food tastes the best and what is the best for our bodies (extra antibiotics that encourage strains of antibiotic resistant infections? No thanks), over time, I found myself unable to go back to the way things were because of my desire to love God and love others.
Along the way in the Christian church story, the role of Christians emerged as conquerers. We were victorious over death in Jesus’s resurrection and somehow, we were also to be victorious over non-Christians, the earth, and the sinful bodies we were given. The instructions in Genesis to “till and keep” the earth meant we could do anything we wanted to the earth because it was ours. We had nothing to fear so we could do whatever we wanted to the earth to become prosperous in the name of Jesus.
In the US, the farm bills, the big agriculture and food lobbyists insist that faster is better–crops grown faster, chickens raised to maturity faster, food prepared faster. In return, we cease taking care of the earth, thinking it is ours to use up and until it is all used up, hoping technology will help us grow food when the land won’t support us any more.
It’s an issue of faith for me.
In Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, Ellen Davis says the following about the Genesis 2:15 instructions to till (‘avad) and keep (shamar):
The first reorienting idea, stemming from the verb ‘avad is that the land is something we may be expected to serve. Typically we think of fertile soil as a “natural resource.” But the Bible has chosen a verb which implies that we are to see ourselves in a relation of subordination to the land on which we live….The needs of the land take clear precedence over our own immediate preferences, as the master’s requirements override a servant’s desires. (p. 193).
The vision of people living in permanent committed relationship with nature, a relationship of dependence on and responsiblity to the fertile soil, is what animates the agrarian movement….Consciously or not, the agrarians are bringing us a message that is genuinely prophetic-that is, it accords with what we may understand from the Bible about the function of prophecy…First, what agrarians tells us about how we stand in relation to the fertile earth confirms on all essential points to the picture set forth in scripture. Serving and protecting the land, observing its natural limits, and protecting it from violation–all these are the basic operating principles of modern agrarianism….Second, the agrarian movement qualifies as prophetic because, like the biblical prophets, agrarians are issuing a fundamental challenge to power. They expose the self-serving “wisdom” promoted my the multinational conglomerates that control the vast majority of food production and processing in this country. (pg.196-197)
Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle first brought this dichotomy between using the earth and taking care of the earth to light. When she decided her family would eat locally for a year, I was enthralled. Could I do it to? I couldn’t (see Part I of my Trader Joe’s saga). As I read more, I found myself drawn into the the responsibility that Genesis places on us. As Davis states, in the original Hebrew, we are not called to pillage the earth. Instead, the original Hebrew suggests that we are to serve the land. Jesus says the same thing, calling us to be good stewards (managers) of all that has been given us–the point of being a steward not to get the most possible out of the powerless, but to respect and nurture those (and those things) we are relationship with. The love Jesus calls us to can extend to our treatment to the land as well. The love can extend to our future generations, creating rich, fertile soil for those who will need to eat in the generations after us, not leaving them at the mercy of technology and land that has been expended.
On my table for daily reading is Joan Chittister’s book, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century. While there is seemingly little connection between the Rule of Benedict and food/faith, there connections are rich. Benedictines speak frequently of doing intentionality–recognizing that every thing we do is a choice and has positive or negative consequences. Benedict’s Rule calls us to make choices that reflect God and loving others. We don’t exist in a vacuum and the food choices we make have consequences as well. While I often, I think that I am just one consumer, I don’t need to worry about my own choice, the Rule of Benedict reminds me that my choices impact those around me and enough individuals can make up a large whole.
When I choose to buy my food (and produce in particular) at Trader Joe’s, I am choosing to support the draining of natural resources–through transporting the produce here from California while there is better tasting, fresher (and even less expensive) sometimes produce that was grown in my area. I do buy produce sometimes at HEB and Whole Foods. When I make the choice about which produce to buy, I first reach for those things that were grown in Texas. I know that does not guarantee that the fruits and vegetables were grown sustainably. I do know that less gas was used in transporting the food. Most of our produce is grown here in town, through our CSA. I know the farmer who grows our food–I have made numerous trips to the farm and have talked with the farmer and know he is committed to serving the earth, growing not just food but also soil.
I won’t be buying produce at Trader Joe’s, who stocks no locally grown produce. My choice does matter, and it is a choice that I feel compelled by faith to make.